The weather was perfect, with apple blossoms in bloom for the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge in France.
Military history interpreter Keith Boehmer of Kelowna, travelled on a 10-day excursion to match the places he’d read about in history books to the real-life monuments.
Veterans Affairs Canada made a national call for those who wished to join the experience, and Boehmer put his name in to represent the Okanagan Military Museum.
“It was a real honour and professionally, it opened up new insights into how I interpret the military history and Vimy’s story for my students and audiences and to put some place names to places I’ve been reading about,” he said.
This was Boehmer’s first time out of the country and the first time on a military tour.
“It was fascinating that way when you can study something and then look at the ground and headstones and say ‘hey, I know that name,’” he said, adding the mood was “respectfully celebratory.”
His group spent time at the German cemetery near Vimy before studying the British and French cemeteries and taking in the sight of the war memorial monument, sitting atop 250-acres of preserved battlefield.
In the city of Arras, Boehmer attended Three Seconds of Light, a Veteran Affairs’ public event which took place on several evenings just southwest of Vimy Ridge.
Boehmer watched the whole square go dark, hearing a single voice singing Oh Canada and watched as red and white lights shone onto the buildings.
“In the meantime, all of our veterans and the Governor General’s entourage that was watching the production, all the Canadians in the foreground would stand up and start singing and I thought that was pretty awesome,” he said.
The French echoed with their national anthem behind them in the square when it came to their turn.
“I’m cautious of nationalism and expressions of nationalism but at the same time I’m human, I’m Canadian and it was pretty cool,” said Boehmer.
After the main ceremony, which was held April 9, the group looked at the Canadian war exhibit focusing on Canadian war art.
Boehmer enjoyed going over the maps, comparing the topography with B.C.’s and one of his favourite parts of the trip was being able to answer questions based on his knowledge.
Boehmer was one of the thousands of Canadians who made the trek to Vimy in honour of the anniversary and described the scene as having as many people as the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
“As a Canadian, it was impressive to see that sort of crowd on another country’s soil.”
Boehmer’s father was a soldier, and he joined the dragoons in high school. Working at the museum since 2004, he tries to bring human stories to the museum, posting descriptions of Okanagan Valley men who lost their lives during the First World War rather than placing emphasis on the technology of the time.
Vimy Ridge is currently highlighted at the Okanagan Military Museum, which is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Okanagan region lost 47 soldiers at Vimy Ridge, while another 151 were wounded in the battle which started April 9 and ended April 12 in 1917.
Overall, more than 3,500 Canadian soldiers died on that southern France battlefield.